Don't Be Blind To It
Let me tell you about my kitchen. Five years ago my wife asked me to take apart and clean a fluorescent light fixture over our stove and countertops.
Since the job entailed a ladder, a screwdriver and some manual dexterity, I naturally broke the glass cover on the light while taking it apart. I blamed my wife. If she hadn’t made me clean the fixture, it would not have ended up broken. My wife was thrilled with my attitude and handy work. I told her I was done. “No more home improvement projects. Hire someone to do them - including the light fixture!”
Anyway, the next Saturday I went to the local hardware store to buy a replacement and fix it. Of course, as luck would have it, the size I needed was a special order and not in stock. Before going ahead with the order, I decided to check a few other retail establishments to see if we could get it sooner.
Well, things came up. I got busy, and a few weeks led to a month, which led to a year, which led to five years (seriously) with an overhead kitchen light fixture without a glass cover - just four clearly visible fluorescent tubes.
Now after a month or so, I was not consciously deciding to not fix the light fixture. Up to that point I was clearly in passive/aggressive revolt against my wife - but not after 30 days. The truth of it was that after awhile, I didn’t even notice the light fixture was broken. I got used to it. It became normal to have a kitchen with a broken light fixture. Even my wife quit mentioning it (she had many other neglected home improvements to point out to me, I guess).
Fast-forward five years to when we decided to sell our house. We hired a home stager to help decorate and recommend improvements to assist in the sale of the home. Home stagers are professionals at finding areas of the home that could impede sales.
So this woman walked into my house, entered the kitchen, looked up and said the light fixture is broken.
“Yes, it is,” I said.
“You will need to fix it,” she explained.
“Sure,” I said.
She then marched around the house and pointed out all kinds of decoration and design flaws. My wife, who decorated the house, was almost in tears. I didn’t much care other than I knew it would be expensive.
At the end of her assault, the home stager sat down with us and went though a variety of improvements. Some we understood and agreed with. And some, while perhaps increasing the value of the home slightly, didn’t pencil out in our minds as immediately necessary. We all agreed on a master list of to-dos.
So we went to work. We hired a carpenter, moved some furniture around, hired a painter, got some new light fixtures and cleaned up the clutter that gathers after years of raising a family. The whole process was miserable and expensive. I had some guy in my house fixing, painting or sanding something for what seemed like a month - even on the weekends. A quiet beer sipped in solitude during the evening that month was impossible. I was cranky on a good day.
Then all the jobs were finished. The house was redecorated and I have to say it looked great. It was roomier and more comfortable with all the little annoying repairs (like the kitchen light fixture) taken care of. All the little piles of clutter - gone. I remember saying to my wife that we should have put our house up for sale five years ago, made all the improvements and then just lived there. It really made that much of a difference.
The really interesting part is all the recommendations this home stager made were things my wife or I would have never thought of. How a room can dramatically change with some new lighting or a redesign in furniture are changes I would have never figured out. We were so used to our house being designed and decorated a certain way, it was impossible to think about it differently. But, she saw it and explained it, and within five minutes it all made sense.
My wife and I had lived in this house for almost nine years. An outsider came in and 30 days later the house felt fresh and new.
How About Your Business?If you have owned and operated a company for any period of time, I would bet there are plenty of “broken light fixtures” around your business. There are broken areas of the business that you know need to be fixed but have been delayed or put off long enough that they are now invisible or at least not on the top of your mind.
It could be the way techs order and receive parts, such as the honor system, where the guys pick up what they need at the wholesale house or just wander down the aisles of the warehouse grabbing what they need. It could be the company hours of operation, where the phones are turned on at 8 a.m. and shut off at 4 p.m. during the week; customers leave a message with the promise that you will call back tomorrow. It could be the structure and timeliness of your monthly income statements (anywhere from 30-50 days after the end of the month with mis-classified expenses like direct labor and overhead wages combined).
Like the previous examples, there are likely plenty of obvious things you know should be changed, but you have gotten used to being around the inefficiencies or errors and have learned to live with them. While harming the business, they are perfectly normal to you. Not good.
But every business has dozens of completely hidden opportunities - things that aren’t as glaring as my broken light fixture or poor material purchasing systems or a late and poorly constructed income statement. Do you have the time or the ability to just sit back and think strategically about your company? Do you even know where to begin in redesigning processes and systems to better serve your customers and improve profitability?
Probably not. Don’t feel bad about it. You are a member of the vast majority in our industry.
Get Some Outside PerspectiveWhen it came to my house, it took something dramatic such as putting it up for sale to get me moving on needed home improvements. And when I was done, I was thrilled that we hired a home stager, listened to her advice and made the improvements. I loved my house when I was done. Sure, it was painful; I hate home improvements and having strange men in my house working on things at all hours. However, I loved it when it was done.
It could be the same thing for your business. Don’t wait for something dramatic such as getting put on COD by your vendors or taking a personal pay cut before you get after business improvements.
Use some outside perspective like we did with the home stager. The best perspective comes from other successful contractors who you may invite into your company for a friendly critique. It could come from going to another successful shop and watching what it does and then replicating those processes in your business. It could come from a trusted accountant or local business advisor. For sure, join an affinity organization (such Nexstar or QSC) and start to rub elbows with successful companies and gain perspectives other than your own.
The point is, you should not be surprised that you can’t conceive of the perfect business model for your company and continually implement improvements all by yourself. You have plenty to do, and a little outside perspective can be just the thing to get you to fix all the broken light fixtures around your business.